Where were you?
Those three words evoke memories from people of my generation – the Baby Boomers. And no one has to ask what the reference is to.
The “where were you” refers to Nov. 22, 1963, the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. For those who were young at the time – I was in high school – that event defined part of our growing up. Combined with the murders of the president’s brother, Bobby Kennedy, and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the JFK killing put an ugly stamp on an important point in our lives.
It seems that almost every generation has its “where were you” moment. For my parents it was Pearl Harbor. For my children it was the Challenger disaster. For an even younger group it was Sept. 11. News of that magnitude seems to lock us into a particular place and time.
When news of the Kennedy shooting was broadcast over the intercom at Aiken High School on that Friday in 1963, I was in world history class being taught by Carlton S. McDaniel in a room in B wing. It was near the end of the next-to-last class of the day, and we were all in shock.
By the time I reached my last-period class – geometry with Pierce Liles – word was being passed around that the president had died. There was numbness on the face of some, tears in the eyes of others. How could such a thing happen in our country?
My wife remembers where she was and even what she was wearing. She was an eighth grader in Spartanburg in speech class. She wore a blue dress.
Unless you have been holed up in a basement for the past several weeks, you are aware that the 50th anniversary of the event is upcoming next week. There are TV specials about Kennedy and his family, there are stories coming out of Dallas about the event and the continuing conspiracy theories surrounding the shooting.
While visiting the Newseum in Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago, my wife and I saw exhibits about the Kennedys and about the events of that day in Dallas. Among the items on display was the camera that Abraham Zapruder used to film the shooting itself. We listened to the story of how a Life magazine worker paid for the print rights to the film, beating out many other news media that wanted that privilege.
Pictures familiar to those of us who grew up in the ’60s brought those awful days to the forefront of our memories.
There was the photo of Jackie leaning across the back of the limo helping a Secret Service agent into the car before it sped off to the hospital.
A photo showed Lyndon Johnson being sworn in as president, Jackie in her bloodstained suit nearby.
There was the image of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald and the moving picture of JFK’s young son saluting as the presidential casket passed by.
The nation changed following that stunning event. We became a bit more jaded, realizing that Camelot was not real. My generation learned that there is evil in the world, something the Baby Boomers had only heard stories about from World War II veterans.
We mourned as a nation. The television networks devoted their air time to coverage of the assassination, preparations for the funeral and information about the accused assassin.
Americans were glued to their TV sets, and it was almost as if the whole country was put on pause. Even the Carolina-Clemson football game slated to be played on Nov. 23 on national TV was moved to the following Thursday – Thanksgiving.
Fifty years have now passed with each Nov. 22 being noted as the anniversary of a terrible event. This one carries us to the half-century mark, and just like Pearl Harbor as long as there are those who were alive at the time, the memories will continue.
What is your “Where were you?” event? And where were you?
There are some things we just cannot forget.
Jeff Wallace is the retired editor of the Aiken Standard.